European exploration the world was undertaken in the 1500's in an attempt to reach the markets of Asia. And once they reached the East, the Europeans quickly found that their technological superiority gave them a strategic advantage over the Asian countries they encountered. As a result, the West began a period of Colonial Imperialism whereby European nations, followed later by the Americans, occupied and administered entire regions of Asia as colonies to be economically exploited. The Asian countries of India, China, and Japan reacted differently in response to the predations of the West, with differing results. India was completely conquered, China ended up conquered to a degree, and Japan started conquering. These three different results were in due, partially because of the stability of their nations, and partially due to the ability of each to adapt and modernize.
The origins of British rule in India began with the British East India Company who established trading posts in India in the early 1600's. At that time the Moghul Empire, which had ruled most of India for centuries, was in a period of decline; and by the early 1700's had fragmented into several small, independent states ruled by a Maharaja. (McLeod, 2002) The British East India Company, using their military technological superiority, embarked upon a policy of "divide and conquer" by which, they expanded their direct control over Indian territory. Sometimes by war, other times by insinuating themselves within local conflicts, the British consolidated their hold on India. The Indian people's divisiveness gave the British the opportunity to conquer all.
At first, the British East India Company was in direct control, complete with company troops to enforce company policy. But the rule of the East India Company was more profit oriented than administrative based, in other words the company abuse and plundered the local populations with no regard for the Indians or their culture. The Indian people rebelled in 1857 and the British government was forced to assume direct control in 1859. (Danielou, 2003) Under the leadership of the British government, India was transformed into a colony of the British Empire, a place to be exploited for raw materials and a market for British goods. Britain introduced the railroad which allowed for the transportation of people and raw materials, as well as for the introduction of new products. The British destroyed local industries, for example, the Indian's had a thriving textile industry before the arrival of the British, but due to British concerns for their own textile industry, the Indian textile industry was destroyed. India became a place to grow cotton, opium, and other cash crops for the British to use in the manufacture of finished products, which were in turn sold back to the Indians.
The influx of British products caused another change in India, between the years 1859 and 1914, it partially transformed India into a modern country. "By 1914, India showed some features of a developed Western economy, such as technological modernization…" (McLeod, 2002) India was slowly modernized by the introduction of the railroads, steam engines, telegraph, and other western technology. Railways and telegraphs made administration and transportation easier for the rulers and the merchants. Steam engines generated more efficient production, but for the benefit of the British industrialists, not the Indians.
However, the wave of nationalism which spread around the world at the end of the First World War generated feelings of independence throughout the British Empire; particularly in India. The transportation and communication base which had been for the benefit of the conquers now became the means to spread nationalistic ideas. During the colonial period, the British had used economic means to control the Indians, for example the production of certain necessities of life, salt, cloth, etc., were regulated by the British. As a means of protest, the Indians began to produce some of these simple products themselves, reintroducing native industries. In fact, the father of Indian nationalism, Gandhi, "…threw himself into preaching the gospel of cotton spinning to the peasantry." (James, 1998) Industry became a tactic of opposition to British rule, and in 1947 Britain granted Indian Independence.
Unlike when the Westerners arrived in both China and Japan, the British came to India at the beginning of a time of chaos and disunity, and exploited the fragmentation of the country to expand their control. The British then destroyed all native industries and used India as a source of raw materials and a market for finished British products. However, the British introduction of modern conveniences would eventually be the basis for a resurgence of Indian nationalism. And this Indian nationalism eventually would become the source of an incredible wave of modernization. In the time since India gained it's independence in 1947, it has engaged in a number of economic development plans which, under the direction of the government but in conjunction with private industry, have been successful at raising India to the rank of a global economic power.
The Chinese response to the arrival of westerners was very different than the reaction of the Indians or later with the Japanese. First of all China was a large, stable, prosperous empire, making it impossible for the "divide and conquer" strategy to be an effective means of gaining either territorial or economic concessions. Unlike the fragmented remnants of the Moghul Empire the British were able to conquer piece by piece, during the 18th century the Chinese were not divided or militarily impotent, and could bring to bear enormous numbers to counter the West's technological advantage. As a result, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, when their technological advantage was not yet expanded to an insurmountable distance by the advances of the Industrial Revolution, Western nations were forced to accept what became known as the "Canton System."
This system of trade was limited to a single port, Canton, and was completely controlled by the Chinese. "Contact was maintained through a selected group of merchants known as the Cohong…who were answerable to the imperial superintendent of commerce for the region, known as the Hoppo." (Gelber, 2007) By limiting contact between the foreigners and the Chinese population at large, the Chinese government hoped to limit the influence of Western technology and ideas. But like the Japanese would find out later, the Westerners could not be kept out forever, their every increasing military advantage would be used against the native populations of Asia. The one sidedness of the "Canton System;" allowing Chinese goods to be exported while not allowing for Western goods to be imported, forced the West to devise some means of trade with the Chinese that did not require large amounts of silver be transferred to Chinese coffers. Unlike India, where the British government took direct control, the Chinese had to be bartered with; and they only wanted silver. The answer to this problem came in the form of opium. After several Imperial edicts, the first in 1729, failed to stop the importation of opium into China, the Chinese acted. (Beeching, 1975)
What began as a conflict over opium, expanded into a battle for the independence of China, and the Chinese lost. The British, followed by other Western powers, forced the Chinese government into granting humiliating economic and territorial concessions. Whole regions of China came under the rule of a variety of foreigners which sparked a wave of resistance originating with the Chinese people themselves. After several uprisings, the Chinese government to finally reacted to the foreigner's influence by undertaking a modernization movement, termed the "Self-Strengthening Movement" aimed at bringing China into the industrial age. However, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 as well as another uprising in 1900, called the Boxer Rebellion (Dugdale-Pointon, 2004), displayed the failure of the Chinese "Self Strengthening Movement;" precipitating a second wave of humiliating concessions which all but brought the last Imperial Chinese dynasty to it's end. Failing to successfully modernize, the last of the Imperial dynasties came to an end in 1911, when the Chinese ousted their Manchu leaders who had occupied the Imperial throne since the mid-1600's.
But much like the Manchu before them, the new democratic leadership was both unable to successfully implement a modernization program and maintain control over the entire country. As a result the rest of China fragmented into a number of regions under control of local warlords with little or no loyalty to the national government. And as some in the national government strove to impose unity over the nation, the Japanese attacked. Beginning in the 1930's China was once again invaded and controlled by a foreign power, only this time it was an Asian people who conquered. The Japanese had started out in a similar position as the Chinese, but they had successfully modernized; creating an industrialized economic base capable of constructing and supporting a modern military. Like those they wished to emulate, the Japanese turned this military toward China, conquering whole regions and engaging in a brutal occupation which lasted until their destruction at the end of the Second World War..